Writing a cover letter to apply for an employment position can be a painstakingly long and sometimes treacherous process. Especially when you are applying for multiple positions, which, for many unemployed individuals who are seeking out virtually any and every opportunity that looks good for them, is unfortunately all too common the case.
The art of creating a letter that is professional, telling in terms of your personality, and simultaneously effective in demonstrating your worth as a job candidate is one that even some executive level professionals still see as a great job searching challenge. However, as stressful and time consuming as writing the perfect cover letter may be, it is a part of the job seeking process that must not be rushed through. The cover letter is often the first item associated with you that a recruiter or hiring manager sees, before they even skim through the credentials on your resume; the quality and charisma of your words and writing style choice is a factor so powerful that these factors alone may make or break the job opportunity for you altogether. In other words, if your cover letter is horrendously written, or appears generic and/or rushed through with grammatical errors and typos, a recruiter is likely to simply dismiss you as a prospective employee based on that cover letter alone, and move on to the next person without wasting their time on your resume details.
Many people make the big mistake of writing a single cover letter that is general and that can be applied, give or take a few word changes, to several types of positions in the industry in which they are seeking work. While this does minimize your time spent applying to each job and thereby maximizes the amount of jobs you can actually apply to in a short period of time, generic cover letters dramatically decrease the likelihood of you receiving a callback or any expression of further interest, for any of the positions you wrote bulk cover letters to and regarding.
So does that mean you have to write an individual cover letter for each position you choose to apply to? Many human resources professionals would probably argue that no, this would take way too much time than it would be worth and instead, suggest the cutting and pasting method again, but done so a bit more carefully and with greater sentence rewrites, to the point where the cover letters could legitimately pass a plagiarism test when compared to one another.
While I definitely agree that time is of essence and neglecting to waste too much of it is quite crucial to avoid the overwhelming feeling of being unemployed and spending a large portion of your day searching for a new job, I tend to feel that the unique, individually constructed and personally directed cover letter is extremely underrated. I must note, though, that it must be used conservatively so as to not exhaust yourself or frustrate you too much when your efforts generate very few responses.
Therefore, a compromise would be to only write these personal, unique cover letters when responding to very recent (as in, posted no more than 2 days ago) job listings. All too often, individuals spend time applying for the perfect job, taking great care writing a killer cover letter and tweaking their resume to perfection, only to never have their materials even glanced at for no other reason than the fact that the position has already been filled and the hiring alert advertisement or listing failed to be removed.
Personalizing a cover letter to a prospective employer is quite a bit of work. Depending on your own preference and style of writing such letters, you may be required to perform some research, obtain factual information and dates about your own background and employment history, and figure out how to string together a compelling collection of words and phrases that wins them over and makes them want more. And again, for jobs that have been posted for a while and have a good chance of being already filled and outdated, taking the time to write a completely new cover letter for each application is probably not worth your time. But for those employment opportunities you decide to pursue with the specialized cover letters, your chances of getting a call back are much higher, or at the very least, a response similar to: “Thanks for your application, the position has been filled already but we will put your resume in our file for future reference”.
Realistically speaking, as disappointing as such a notice of perceived rejection may be, it actually should be taken as quite a compliment, as these hiring managers or recruiters have many more tasks on their desk to deal with than to spend time getting back to each applicant for the motive of simple politeness. If an employer takes the time to contact you, whether interested in further plans to communicate in the near future or not, you can be sure you’ve made an impression on them.
And true, most of the time when your resume is filed, it is never used again. This doesn’t have to be the case though. You can choose to take a proactive approach, and should do so, especially for employment opportunities with companies of particular interest to you. You might take the initiative in the future to check up with the hiring employer about openings, reminding them that your materials exist in their files. If they liked it the first time but the timing was wrong, the chances are not too slim that after frequent (yet widespread) intervals of check-in calls from you, one of these times around the timing will be exactly right.
One thing is for sure though: Individuals with generic cover letters will not be given a second thought based on application materials alone. Those with personalized, intriguing cover letters will be, if not remembered in the back of the recruiters’ minds, easily identified as familiar and appealing the moment the employer comes across it and its corresponding resume once again. So take time, utilize all the effort you can muster and make those cover letters count. They really do matter more than many might think.